So, Elton John, would you consider going back to music school?

So, Elton John, would you consider going back to music school?


norman lebrecht

October 14, 2019

The singer-songwriter is asked an egregious question by the principal of the Royal Academy of Music, where he once studied. Turns out, he’s studiously ambivalent: ‘It was a place full of fear.’

Your fans may not have known about your classical training at the Royal Academy of Music until they saw Rocketman. If you had your time again, would you still go through it?
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, principal, the Royal Academy of Music


In a heartbeat. I knew I wasn’t going to be a classical pianist – my hands are too small and I wanted to be a rock’n’roll player. But it was a wonderful place, even if it was full of fear – it was strict, they hated anything that wasn’t classical music, although it’s very different now. I learned so much from being in the choir, from the other musicians, from the teachers. You can hear it in the Elton John album: The King Must Die, The Greatest Discovery, Sixty Years On. I’d advise anyone to get formal training, because it teaches you the rudiments – chord structure, melody. It introduces you to music that’s beautiful and miles away from what you might do. It fills your mind with options.


  • John Rook says:

    It also gives you the freedom to create any type of music you want. Wise words from Reggie.

  • Anon says:

    “In a heartbeat” followed by the many positives sounds more like a ‘yes’ than anything ambivalent, surely?

  • Hilary says:

    It strikes me as a reasonable enough question.

    Connections between pop and classical mustn’t be underestimated. David Bowie’s list of favourite albums included Strauss’s 4 Last Songs (Janowitz/Karajan) and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (Markevitch). A very discerning man.

    Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead studied composition with Luciano Berio.

  • Bruce says:

    On the other hand, I remember reading an interview with James Taylor (American folk singer, for those of you) where he said he purposely never learned to read music because he was afraid it might cramp his creativity.

    To me that’s like a poet who refuses to learn to spell, but whatever. He’s done all right for himself.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, a disingenuous comment from Taylor – probably as a cover for his lack of musical training.
      The Beatles couldn’t read music either – George Martin covered all those bases, and he was a music school graduate. You don’t need to be able to read music to whistle a tune, or even play a tune on the piano but you need somebody to write it down for you if you want to making recordings. I envy those who can play music by ear and without training, but they’re never going to do very much more than a 3 minute song!! There are exceptions in jazz music, but that is a very special category of great musicians.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        You don’t need anyone to write it down to record it, you just need to play it. Having said that, much of the music of the Beatles was arranged by George Martin (he also had to write the parts for the session musicians they hired).

  • mathias broucek says:

    Misleading. Question wasn’t about going BACK but about going in the first place

  • The View from America says:

    Sounds about right.

  • Tod Brody says:

    How is the reply [I’d do it again] “in a heartbeat” ambivalent? Sounds to me like the adjective “unequivocal” would be a better fit.